I meant to do the obligatory It’s-been-6-Months-Since-I-Arrived-Here post but I was away in Europe, and so much has been going on, so I apologize!
Well, it’s been almost 9 months since I decided to take the Caribbean plunge and transplant my life from New York City to Willemstad, Curacao formerly, the Netherlands Antilles. I had a dream in mind, to leave, to take some time away from the hustle and bustle of the East Coast big city life and just do something else.
Americans are a pretty rare breed here in Curacao. Wherever I go, when people learn that I moved here from the States to live, they usually respond with, “You moved here?? Really? Why?” Very often, this remark is accompanied with a searching look that seems to say, “there’s gotta be a GOOD story behind why this girl decided to come here”! When I first came to Curacao, I used to think this reaction was slightly amusing. Now, I totally understand why people where might think my choice to come here is peculiar at best, crazy at worst.
Curacao is small. Geography wise, one can do a loop around the island in under 3 hours. Most activity is concentrated in Willemstad, which is the capital. So unless one is interested in going to the beaches in Westpunt, or hiking up Mt. Christoffel, or exploring the northern rocky coast, pretty much all of the major social life is in good ol’ W-Stad.
Socially, Curacao is small. There are powerful families that control businesses and financial interests on the island that have been here for centuries. Political and business appointments are given to friends and family members. In many ways, it can feel very difficult as an outsider to “get in” if you don’t know anyone on a personal level. It can take some time before people trust you enough to “let you in”. The same can be said for socializing as well. I’ve talked to people who have been on the island for years and can recall the times when neighbors said hello to each other and thought nothing of leaving their doors unlocked and open without feat. “Nowadays, people are so into themselves”, my Papiamentu teacher told me one night. “Building high walls around their houses, staying inside all of the time.”
Curacao is not the place for big, ostentatious Carnivals, or bustling streetlife. But what has been rewarding for me, is when I am allowed the chance to enter into people’s lives, to see what goes on beyond the colorful architecture so often seen on travel postcards. I’ve had the chance to speak with communities of illegal immigrants, religions minorities, the rich and the poor, the Dutch and the Yu di Korsou (native Curacaon), and I still get the sense of a country whose national identity is still very much in flux. With the recent death of the controversial politician Helmin Wiels, (who some say was actively working to raise the the level of consciousness in Curacao’s Yu di Korsou population) and the rise of violent crime in the last few months, there is a sense of hand wringing among locals about the future of the country only 2 years after becoming an independent constituent country of The Netherlands. I wonder along with them.
As for me, I do miss home, friends and family, naturally. I’ve been lucky enough to have been visited by a few friends since I’ve been here. But living on an island can feel a bit isolating. Gone are the days where one can just take a long road trip or bus right for a quick trip. The key to keeping one’s sanity, I’ve been told, is to be able to get off the island as much as (financially) possible. But things are getting easier. My Dutch and Papiamentu are coming along a bit, so at least I can somewhat follow conversations. Other than the occasional homesickness and island fever, I’m really glad I made the decision to come here. What the next year may hold for me, I’m not sure, but I’ll be ready!